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Students hit back as MPs vote to raise tuition fees

Britain's coalition government voted in favour of raising the cap on university tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year Thursday, triple the current limit, as police clashed with protesters in London.


Britain's parliament voted in favor of increasing fees paid by university students on Thursday, despite a fracture in the coalition government and another day of clashes between police and protesting youth in London.

Students and academics were again out in force on London’s streets Thursday. After the

Susan Nash, vice president of the National Union of Students, speaks to FRANCE 24

mass protests in November, youth from across the country converged on the capital to protest the government’s plans to drastically increase university tuition fees.

Confrontations between police and protesters led to chaotic scenes in Parliament square. Police said 22 people were arrested, while 38 protesters and 10 police were injured on Thursday. Demonstrations continued after the result of the vote was announced, with police attempting to clear Parliament square in the early evening.

A car carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla was attacked by protesters along Regent street. "We can confirm that Their Royal Highnesses' car was attacked by protesters on the way to their engagement at the London Palladium this evening, but Their Royal Highnesses are unharmed," a spokesman for the prince said.

Protesters are unhappy with a rise in the cost of university schooling, today capped at £3,290 pounds per year (about €4,000). The reform approved by MPs seeks to raise the tuition limit to £9,000 pounds.

The project to nearly triple the cap on university fees has angered student organizations. The National Union of Students (NUS), Britain’s first student group, has called on youth to fight a reform they say will make their country’s universities "the most expensive in the world".
Thursday’s protest was the fifth in less than a month.
Events "less ideological than in France"
"These types of student protests are very unusual for Britain," said Sarah Pickard, a professor at Paris’ Sorbonne Nouvelle University and a specialist in British youth.
"The last major protests were against the Iraq war. But there was widespread participation and didn’t involve only students. For the last such demonstrations, including the occupation of university facilities, one must look back to the Thatcher years," she said.
While Pickard thinks that the English students are perhaps "a bit inspired" by their French counterparts, she said that the protests are "less ideological than in France,” where anti-capitalist ideas are often evoked.
"In Britain students are more pragmatic. They are simply asking to graduate before incurring too much debt," she added jokingly.
Nick Clegg’s betrayal
Britain’s House of Commons took the entire day to debate the controversial project before the crucial parliamentary vote. The lower house approved the plan by 21 votes, indicating that several members of the ruling coalition failed to back the reform. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition counts a majority of 84 when all MPs are present in the 650-seat house.
Before the coalition took form in May, Lib Dem candidates pledged not to touch the educational system during the election campaign. Since then, the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has backpedaled and has firmly stood behind Cameron, urging party members to vote in favour of the plan.

"Many young people feel betrayed because many of them voted for Nick Clegg, who promised not to raise tuitions," said Pickard. She predicted that the student movement against the reform will continue despite the vote.


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